Rep. Lamar Smith: Why We Should Have a Debate on Birthright Citizenship

The recent national debate about the impact of illegal immigration on America is needed and welcomed.

Each year, 10 percent of all births or almost 400,000 children born are to those who are unlawfully in the United States. Given the more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the country today, this number is likely to continue.

These children automatically receive many of the same rights and privileges as United States citizens despite their parents’ illegal status. Birthright citizenship bestows on these individuals billions of dollars in federal benefits each year in the form of Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, refundable tax credits, nutrition and housing assistance, and eventually work authorization. Of course, taxpayers foot the bill.

Birthright citizenship also rewards illegal immigrant parents. It all but guarantees that they will never be deported. And the parents indirectly reap the government benefits going to their children.

Birthright citizenship is based on an erroneous reading of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which states that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens[.]”

Last April, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration held a hearing to determine who should be a citizen under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Witnesses testified to the fact that historically, Congress never intended to treat all persons born on American soil as citizens. Native Americans and children of foreign diplomats are examples of children born in the United States but who are not subject to its jurisdiction under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Congress is explicitly given the power to interpret the Citizenship Clause by legislation in section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. It states that “[t]he Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”Also, the United States Supreme Court has never directly considered the question of citizenship of children born to illegal immigrants on American soil. At least one federal appellate court has noted that such a policy “makes no sense” and that “Congress would not be flouting the Constitution if it amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to put an end to the nonsense.”

Legislation has been regularly introduced over the years to require that at least one parent of a child born in the United States be a citizen or lawful permanent resident before the child is considered a citizen under the Fourteenth Amendment. The United States is one of the very few developed nations not to have this requirement for citizenship.

In addition, our borders must be secured. A nation that has lost control of its borders has lost control of its future. Presidential administrations, none worse than the current one, find excuses to allow illegal immigrants to stay in violation of our laws. When those who enter the United States unlawfully are not sent home, it invites more illegal immigration. Birthright citizenship is merely a symptom of this broader problem.

As with birthright citizenship and lax border controls, the failure to enforce current immigration laws serves as a magnet for illegal immigration. All that is necessary for those who come to the United States unlawfully is to get across the border, and they will be allowed to stay.

To discourage illegal immigration, we need policies that make it easier for immigration officials to deport illegal immigrants and allow local law enforcement to act when the federal government fails to do so.

“Sanctuary” cities that shield illegal immigrants from deportations in violation of federal laws should be penalized. Foreign travelers who come to America legally but who overstay their visas should be returned home. And employers should hire only job applicants who are legally authorized to work in the United States.

Legislation implementing these policies has already been approved in the House of Representatives. They need to be enacted into law and strictly enforced.220px-Lamar_Smith,_Official_Portrait,_c112th_Congress

The debate over birthright citizenship reminds us of how much remains to be done if we want an immigration system that puts the interests of America first.

COMMENTARY BY Rep. Lamar Smith